Is the Era of Free Coming to an End?

Yesterday my friend Deirdre tweeted me a link to a blog post about a topic she knows I'm "passionate" about (read: obsessed with): blogger compensation. This particular post was about food bloggers struggling with the issue of compensation. She floats the idea of a food bloggers union, but quickly backpedals and points out that organizing a group of professionals with the intent to set prices is probably illegal.

Now jump back to my few recent posts about blogging and compensation: how women in particular have problems asking for what they're worth when it comes to business, including blogging, and how the "free" model is getting old as far as I'm concerned. These issues are nothing new to me; I've been blogging about citizen journalism for several years now and almost a year and a half ago pondered whether relying on free user-generated content is a sustainable model.

Not to be all "I told you so" but I was gratified to read Mayhill Fowler's post about why she left the Huffington Post. In short: because they refused to pay her and she decided her work was worth more than nothing. She points out that the Huffington Post pays some of its reporters six figures, while not paying its many citizen journalists a penny.

Here's the thing: how many other publications out there are making money selling ads yet not paying a dime for the content that populates those same ad-laden pages and brings in the traffic in the first place? How long before other bloggers take Mayhill Fowler's lead and decide that they're not willing to work for free anymore? Will there be an uprising where bloggers do form some kind of union, either formal or not, and begin to demand payment for the work they're doing? Judging by the 50+ comments on Mayhill's post, the natives are definitely getting restless.